Sean Payton’s innovation, experience should help fix Russell Wilson

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After an exhaustive search, Denver Broncos general manager Greg Penner landed perhaps the first person he steered his franchise to in Sean Payton.

The veteran NFL head coach who won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints spent last season working as an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Payton’s biggest challenge with the fledgling Broncos will be fixing what ails Russell Wilson.

After acquiring Wilson in a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Seahawks last offseason, the Broncos were expected to compete for the AFC West crown and possibly the Super Bowl. Instead, Denver finished at the bottom of the division at 5-12.

Wilson was largely to blame for the team’s struggles in 2022, which led to the new ownership group firing head coach Nathaniel Hackett before the end of his first season. The nine-time Pro Bowler finished with career lows in completion percentage (60.5), passing touchdowns (16) and passer rating (84.4) and was sacked a career-high 55 times. The Broncos finished last in the NFL in points scored (16.9) and third-down conversions (29.1).

Enter Payton, who proved to be one of the league’s brightest offensive minds during 15 seasons with the Saints. That’s why New Orleans was one of Wilson’s preferred trade destinations after the 2020 season. For years, Wilson has been compared to Payton’s protégé Drew Brees, given the quarterbacks’ similar size and height. Payton and Wilson reportedly connected before the Broncos consummated that latest deal.

Retired defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, once a teammate of Wilson’s in Seattle, believed Payton would be a good fit with his former quarterback.

“Pete [Carroll] he knows how to communicate,” Mebane said. “He knows how to make you run up a wall, and you didn’t even know you ran up that wall.

“I think the closest coach that can run a system and fit Russ is Sean Payton. I think he would be the best fit for Russ. Russ and Drew Brees are the same height. Russ might have a better arm.”

FOX NFL analyst Sean Payton will become the next head coach of the Broncos

FOX NFL analyst Sean Payton will become the next head coach of the Broncos

Nick Wright, Chris Broussard and Kevin Wildes discuss the news that the Saints and Broncos have agreed to terms that will send coach Sean Payton to Denver in exchange for draft compensation.

Wilson and Brees, of course, are different quarterbacks and different athletes. But Payton’s track record suggests he’ll not only hold Wilson accountable, but find the bread-and-butter plays the aging star has run for so long.

“I’d like a breakdown of all of Russell’s past plays 30 yards or more down the field, and I’d like to see if there are some schemes that he’s comfortable with,” Payton said during a recent appearance on “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd . “I know they did a great job in Seattle of getting him a bare boot and then pulling him up. We all saw that back in [Tyler] Lockett across the field where the ball traveled 60 yards in the air.

“Then I’d like to watch another film of his touchdown passes in the red zone. What I’m asking the audience is some of his greatest hits, and then make sure we have some of those song lyrics available . And if not, let’s put them on.”

During Payton’s final five seasons with the Saints, his offenses finished in the top five in scoring four times. That included extended stretches with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill starting at quarterback. Therefore, Payton knows and understands how to coach the offense and design schemes to get the most out of his players and a variety of players.

Broncos-Saints finalize deal for Sean Payton as next head coach

Broncos-Saints finalize deal for Sean Payton as next head coach

Emmanuel Acho, Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy and David Helman react to the breaking news.

The Broncos already have one of the best defenses in the NFL. They don’t have much draft capital due to the trade of Wilson and now Payton, but they do have about $9.5 million in salary cap space, according to Over the Cap .

After a nightmare season under Hackett, the new ownership group wisely invested in an experienced head coach to guide this once-proud franchise to its winning ways. Their playoff drought, dating back to their Super Bowl 50 win, is the second-longest in the entire league.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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